year or so ago I equated the pleasure of watching a Universal Western to opening a box of candy, and that's certainly the case with FLAME OF ARABY, an "Arabian Western" starring Jeff Chandler and Maureen O'Hara. It's a somewhat silly yet completely delicious piece of movie escapism, and I had a grand time watching it.
I found this film to be more of an exotic Western than a Middle Eastern adventure film as, thanks to movie magic, Arabia seems to be in California's Alabama Hills! The movie definitely has its share of scenes with palaces, handmaidens, veils, and other fairy tale imagery, but roughly two-thirds of the film is set in the great outdoors, riding horses amidst the same rocks where hundreds of Westerns have been filmed.
Chandler plays Tamerlane, a Bedouin on the hunt for a beautiful black stallion. The stallion is also coveted by Princess Tanya (O'Hara) of Tunis, especially when it may indirectly prove to be the means by which she can escape both her evil cousin (Maxwell Reed) and forced marriage to one of the ghastly Barbarossas (Buddy Baer and Lon Chaney Jr.).
It's a bit amusing at first hearing the actors delivering rather stilted Arabian Nights style dialogue, yet they commit to it so completely that it's ultimately charming, rather than camp. Some of the "serious" lines made me smile, but it's all in good fun.
Chandler and O'Hara both dive into their parts with verve and seem to be having a great time -- what a way to earn a living! -- and the audience has a good time right along with them. I watched most of the film with a smile on my face; it's the perfect movie to lift the spirits at the end of a long, busy day.
Richard Egan plays Captain Fezil, loyal servant of the princess. Susan Cabot is a dancing wench who causes trouble for both Tamerlane and Tanya. The cast also includes Neville Brand, Henry Brandon, Dewey Martin, and Royal Dano.
This fast-paced 77-minute film was directed by Charles Lamont, from a story and screenplay by Gerald Drayson Adams. Adams wrote film noir titles such as THE BIG STEAL (1950) and ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950), as well as many a Warner Bros. TV Western.
FLAME OF ARABY was recently released on DVD in the Universal Vault Series. It's a lovely print showcasing the Technicolor photography by Russell Metty in general and the gorgeous red-haired Maureen O'Hara in particular. The film also has some particularly fine matte compositions of the city of Tunis.
Fellow fans of the lead actors and Universal films of the era will hopefully have as good a time watching this one as I did.